[John] I'd hear that song and I would run over to the tape that can hit record and, you know, I'd miss the first 10 seconds of the song, and now you can just... And the announcers would always start talking just before the song ended.
[Val] Hi, and welcome to the Be Connected Podcast. I'm Val Quinn and I'm a technology commentator, broadcaster, publisher, and the host of the Be Connected Podcast. One of the best things about technology and the internet is the innovation they brought to the everyday things. People have always enjoyed activities like looking at photos, watching videos, listening to radio, reading books, and playing games for instance. Today we're gonna talk about how we used to do these things and how we do them now, does technology make them better, easier, more enjoyable, or was the old way better? Well, joining me to talk about this is John Davidson. So John Davidson is from the Australian Financial Review, and he specialises in helping AFR readers understand technology. And his column is a fantastic read. The thing to know about John is that he doesn't always just accept technology for its own sake, and I've worked with John for years and he really does cast a critical eye over the latest and greatest. So with that introduction, John great to have you here.
[John] Oh, thanks Val. It's great to be here. So what tech do you wanna talk about first? Should we do photography?
[Val] Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a good one. I mean, you used to actually be a photographer for weddings, right? Is that true?
[John] Yes. In the old days of film back before digital cameras. But yes, I used to be a wedding photographer in the film days. And it's sort of swings in roundabouts when I think about how it's different now from how it was back then. Back then as a wedding photographer, obviously you had film cameras, you always had to time the number of photos, so you would do the film change at the right time. You didn't wanna be doing a film change right in the middle of the signing of the register, for instance. So that was a bit harder. And also you couldn't see how you were going. Like I'd been shooting slide film and then I put in a colour negative film, but I still had the camera set for slide film. With slide film, you deliberately underexpose a little. With colour, negative film, regular film you wanna slightly overexpose. So I shot this whole role underexposed, right? And this was the signing of the register and I had no idea until days later that I was underexposing the whole thing, right? So with analog photography you never got the immediate feedback. You didn't know how you were going. And I remember one time also, to do with the signing of the register, I lost an entire roll of film. Well, maybe I didn't even load it in, to this day I still don't know. But you know, a week later when I got all the film back, there was no signing of the register. And I went back to the church and I was searching everywhere for it. And none of those things happen with digital photography. Like if you don't have a memory card in the camera, the camera will tell you there's no memory card. You can't make those sorts of mistakes.
[Val] That's terrible. That's an embarrassing mistake that probably gives every photographer nightmares.
[John] I was so mortified. It took me a week to work up the courage just to call the bride to tell her I didn't have the signing of the register. Photo editing is a whole other can of worms. I used to spend a lot of time every Saturday in the dark room. You could do some of the things that you can do in Photoshop now, but you wouldn't know whether they were right or not. So you would be dodging and burning, trying to bring, make people's faces a bit darker or a bit lighter or whatever it was you're doing. You could do it, but you'd then have to wait five minutes to see whether you did it right when you developed the paper, right? And then you would have another go. And so you might have like 30 discarded prints before you got one you are happy with. Whereas with photo editing on a computer for a fraction of the cost, you can just do it in front of your eyes and get it exactly right the first time.
[Val] That's right. And you can change the colour, you can change the brightness, saturation, all of these different variables, you just kind of dial them up or down, see what the results look like, go back to the original if you don't like it, or just basically really edit your photos and do a beautiful job of it right from your phone even.
[John] You could do a lot of that in the old days, but it was hard and you needed a lot of skill and a lot of practise.
[Val] I think that's it. It's so much easier now. I should point out too that if you're listening and you wanna learn more about this, we have the "Fun With Photos" course on the Be Connected website. And there's even an interactive activity that lets you practise some photo editing skills. So definitely be sure to check out this. There's more about it in the show notes for a link right to the course. Also, you can use technology to safeguard your photos. So you can have sort of like a private photo album that's in the cloud. So you can upload everything to this cloud storage and you might have a copy on your computer as well, so you've kind of got two versions and if something happens to your computer, you can still have that cloud-based album that you can then copy back down onto another device.
[John] You should always have at least two versions. So you have your local copies on your computer, you have another copy somewhere else in your house, maybe you've got an external hard drive that you use. And then you have cloud so that even if your house burns down, you've still got the photos. But the thing is, getting extra storage is really cheap. Like, it's like dollars a month for tonnes and tonnes of storage for photos. So it's a really good idea to do.
[Val] Hmm, that's right. So maybe a copy on your computer, a copy on an external hard drive that plugs into your computer - and this is a copy of your entire photo album - and then a version stored in the cloud. The idea is just have lots of different places to store your very, very precious memories. Oh, and if you wanna know more about cloud storage and how it works, we do have some great courses on the Be Connected website too, about this. We'll put a link in the show notes so you can easily find this online.
[John] One of the good things about digital photographs is you don't necessarily have to curate them so much if you don't want to. You can let the computer do the curation for you. You could train the computer to see that, you know, this is your daughter Julie, and it can then go through all your photographs and create an album of your daughter, Julie. You can just keep everything in the one place. You don't need to sort, you don't need to delete.
[Val] That's right. It's like you have a smart album and it will organise by date or location, or like you said by a person. Actually, just recently Apple added a new feature that will identify your pet by name. So there's a really smart technology going on that looks at the photos, analyses them, understands some of the information that's captured in the photo, like location, time, date, all of that, and then you can have everything organised by that. So you could go back to, say, 10 years ago and see what was happening then, or you could look up someone's birthday and see what happened then. So these are great features. You might actually have this built into your phones right now. So whether it's an Android or an iPhone, give it a try.
[John] So now the other thing, of course, that's moved into the cloud is TV.
[Val] Yeah. Well let's talk about how TV has changed and there's a lot there to talk about, isn't there? [John ] Well, one of the really interesting things is a lot of people who buy TVs don't even plug them into an antenna anymore.
[Val] Isn't that crazy? We don't watch free-to-air TV anymore.
[John] Who would have thought?
[Val] But I guess now that the internet gets connected to your TV, there are now so many more sources of getting the same programs and even opening up a vast selection of shows that aren't broadcast over the usual ways. And I think that's what's really different. Now we can just choose what we want and when we want it, rather than having to wait for it to be broadcast.
[John] I remember when I was growing up, there was this Robert Redford movie "Three Days of the Condor" that I saw one night maybe when I was 10 or something like that, and I really wanted to see it again. And I waited years and years and years for it to come back. And I was so excited when I saw it in the TV guide that it was showing again. Nowadays you have none of that and it's sort of good and bad, I guess. Like maybe it taught us patience. So you know all this delayed gratification maybe was good for our psyche, I don't know. But nowadays, if you wanna watch "Three Days of the Condor" you just download it.
[Val] Yeah, look, I think there is some virtue in having to wait and you know, they call it appointment viewing where you kind of have to plan it out and maybe you can set aside some time and you get a bit excited for the show that you've been waiting so long to watch and maybe might appreciate it a little more. I do think that maybe society has kind of lost a little appreciation in waiting for things.
[John] Well the cloud services are sort of coming around to that idea. There's fewer shows now that they dump them all at once. They will spread them out one episode per week so that it becomes part of the social conversation. Like everyone's waiting for the new episode of "Succession" to start because they didn't dump the whole of "Succession" at the beginning of the season.
[Val] Well that's right. And for those that might not have tried this, say Netflix, which is a really popular place for movies and TV shows, used to release an entire season at one time. So you had all 10 or 13 episodes to watch one after the other. And I think that's where the term "bingeing" came from when it came to the context of television. You would just sit at home and watch four or five or six episodes in a row because they're all there and you didn't have to wait for them. But like you're saying John, that now some different online channels are kind of spacing out, say one per week, they'll release it one per week again.
[John] Just like the old days.
[Val] Yeah. So back to that sort of serialised drama that you'd watch and you'd wait every week and you know, it'd come out on a Friday and bang, you watch it then. So it's good to see a little bit of that. But one thing that I think is great about how new technology gives us more content is that we can search for things. So we can search for a favourite show or an actor and then find out all of the movies that actor's been in, and then maybe choose the movies that we wanna watch. So TV is more searchable these days or movies are more searchable.
[John] A lot of the cloud services will provide that for you as well, where you'll get into a show and then it will tell you who the actors are in the show. And then you can click on the actor and it will tell you what other films they're in that are also on the service.
[Val] That's right. So yeah, Amazon Prime, I think, has something called X-Ray and yeah, you could pause it at any time and then information will pop up while it's paused. And yeah, you can see each actor that's in that scene at that moment and learn more about them. And I should also add too, how good is pausing? Remember when we couldn't pause TV? You remember when you would be watching something and you know, someone would knock at the door and you'd have to go, oh no, I'm gonna miss my show . Now you can pause it fast forward it, rewind it. Yeah. That certainly has helped.
[John] I think TV on the whole is way better.
[Val] And you can watch TV anywhere now. So you could be from any device pretty much. So you could start it at home and then maybe you're going on a trip. So you're on a bus and you can pick it up from the phone that you've got in your pocket and then when you get somewhere else to another place, you can pick it up again from the TV that's at the next destination all without missing anything. And look, it's pretty much the same thing as what's happened with radio. We now have podcasts, so, you know, what do you think of radio versus podcasts?
[Val] I remember when I was growing up there was Hitchhiker's Guides to the Galaxy. It was a popular radio show from BBC. And it would be on every Sunday evening I think. And I would sit there with my dad's reel to reel tape recorder because you could do really long recordings on these old reel to reel tape recorders. And the moment it would come on, I would press record and then, because I didn't wanna listen to it on a Sunday night, but I would record it and I made this whole box set of reel to reel Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which now I think about it, I probably never actually listened to it, but it was kind of fun.
[Val] You know, I did the same. I had this tape deck with a radio built into it, and I can remember when my favourite song would come on the radio. Of course, you know, you might have to call 'em and make a request and they might play it for you. I'd have it on in the background and then I'd hear that song and I would run over to the tape that can hit record and probably record it from, you know, I'd miss the first 10 seconds of the song and then record it to tape and that would be my copy of that song. And now you can just...
[John] And the announcers would always start talking just before the song ended and you would hear them over and over again. 'cause that was how you listened to it. So yeah, so many things. It's so much easier now.
[Val] Well, I mean, what is a podcast? First and foremost, we didn't even describe what that is versus say radio. What makes it different?
[John] Well, you're listening to a podcast right now.
[Val] We should say, we should know this, but I guess it is a self-contained sort of radio show, isn't it? But only it's broadcast differently.
[John] Yeah, I don't even know if you'd use the word broadcast. In the old sense it's narrow cast, there'd be thousands of, you could have very niche podcasts about true crime or about technology or about, you know, cooking or you don't need to reach a mass market in order to make a podcast work. And so you have this proliferation of niche topics as podcasts. And the good thing about them, say compared to reading on about the topic, is that you can do two things at once with a podcast. You can be cooking and listening to a podcast. You can be out walking and listening to a podcast.
[Val] Driving in your car, listening to a podcast.
[John] We are very aware of that in my newspaper, that people wanna be able to consume news without it being the only thing that they're doing right there and then so that they can listen to the news as a podcast while they're doing something else.
[Val] And because these are available on the internet, reception isn't a barrier either. So it doesn't matter whether you've got a weak signal.
[John] If you've got no signal though, you can still often listen to podcasts. A lot of the podcast apps have this thing called subscribing. So you've listened to the show a couple of times or even one time, you subscribe to it and you can tell it automatically download the next episode for me so that it might do it overnight while you're not even, like while you're asleep in bed. And then you go for a walk the next day and there it is already stored on your phone. You don't need to use your mobile phone data. It's used to the home's WiFi connection.
[Val] Okay, that's great. So for example, if I wanted to listen to ABC podcasts, I could go to the ABC Listen app, subscribe, and then those podcasts would download to my device so I can listen to them when I'm offline or disconnected from the internet.
[John] One of the slightly confusing things about podcasts I found is that, is that they're often in multiple places. You don't just go to the ABC for ABC, you could maybe you can go to the Apple podcast app and find some some ABC content as well. You can often get away with just having the one podcast app and it will have multiple different podcasters appearing in it.
[Val] Well, that's right John. Actually, if you're listening to the Be Connected podcast for example, you might be doing that via the Be Connected web page where you press the little play button on the page itself. But there are plenty of actual podcast libraries out there from say Apple or Google or even Spotify, where you can also find the Be Connected podcast and have all of the advantages of downloading it directly to your device.
[John] And not listening to it on your computer screen frees you up for those other things that we talked about as well, that you can listen to the podcast while you're driving or while you're out in the garden.
[Val] Good points.
[John] And almost everything we've just said about podcasts is true about audio books as well. You can download them to your phone, you can subscribe to them. Although one of the big differences is that audiobooks you tend to have to pay for, whereas podcasts tend to be supported by advertising. So you pay for it by listening to a bit of advertising at the beginning or the end. Yeah, and the thing I love about audiobooks is the same thing that I love about podcasts. You can do other things while you're listening to it. You can be cooking or you can be driving or cleaning the house and listening to a book and it saves your eyes.
[Val] Absolutely. I think that's a really important point too, is that if you've got low vision or you just, you know, it's just you don't like to read, audio books are a great way of getting the same story while you're doing something else. And also some of them have some fantastic narrators, so they get, you know, famous narrators like Steven Fry and they do a great job of bringing the whole audiobook to life. I mean, my personal indulgence is a long drive with a great audiobook.
[John] Mine is a long drive and the cricket is on the radio.
[Val] Well, you know, there's still that, but you're probably listening to digital radio nowadays, not the old-school radio.
[Val] Yes, yes. Which is a great way of bringing AM stations, which could be a bit crackly and the reception's not so great. It really increases the quality. The same AM stations are still there, but you're just listening to 'em in higher fidelity.
[John] Plus the cricket's not always on. So yes, there's always audio books.
[Val] That's true. And you know, there are a lot of great apps, of course, and the Be Connected program has whole course about them called "Useful Apps", and we've included a link to in the show notes to make it easier to find out more. But John, let's just quickly not forget about eBooks. How do these work and what makes them different?
[Val] eBooks are little files that you download either onto a computer or onto your phone or onto an eBook reader, a specialised reading device like a Kindle or a Kobo.
[Val] Yeah, so an eBook is a digital version of a book. And so if I had a tablet or an e-reader, I could just swipe rather than turn the pages physically and yeah, carry them with me.
[John] I'm really conflicted about eBooks. On the one hand, if you go on holidays, you can take thousands of them with you. You can take your entire library with you and read whatever you'd like. But on the other hand, there was something nice about books, there's something nice about the object of a book. That you walk into someone's house and you look at their bookshelves and you make rash judgements about their personality based on the books that are there even though they probably never read them themselves anyway.
[Val] That's true. You know, they are actually part of your interior decoration as well. You have a beautiful bookshelf and it looks great on the wall. So if you have eBooks, you just...
[John] You get none of that.
[Val] You just have one little tablet that replaces your books.
[John] And once you've finished reading the book, you're probably just gonna delete it. I mean, I don't think I've ever kept an eBook the way I've kept books.
[Val] And I like the fact that I can make notes in a book. You know, your book might be, have a nice inscription from somebody or, you know, it just has a sense of history about it rather than a digital copy on a device that you read it from.
[John] Some of that visceral stuff that's surrounded sort of the old media has disappeared, but Kindle has a new eBook reader that you can draw on. You can make margin. It's not nearly as good as the old pen on a book underlining and stuff like that. But the digital, the eBook manufacturers are trying to sort of copy some of the old school stuff into the ebook readers nowadays.
[Val] Well, that's good I guess I acknowledge that those things were actually wanted and enjoyed. But I mean, I have to concede that I do love the fact that I can take 10 books with me the size of a tiny little ebook reader on my holidays. I do love that. And also if you lose the reader, you don't lose the book technically either. Like you can just as these eBooks are stored in the cloud, you can just re-download them to a device, right?
[John] That's right. Depending on where you got them from in the first place. Yeah. But typically you might buy them from Amazon, for instance, if you've got a Kindle eBook reader, you would buy them from the Amazon website and download them to your Kindle, and Amazon remembers that you've paid for it so that a year later you can go back and download it onto another device. And you can have it actually on multiple devices at the same time, so that when you've gone you got your phone with you, you can still read your eBook. And then when you go home and you pick up your Kindle, if the Kindle is attached to your home Wi-Fi network, it will know that you've read through 20 pages on your phone. And so it will automatically sort of open up in the place that you left off on your phone.
[Val] So you don't need a bookmark, it will remember. And of course people have always loved books, but they also love games too to pass the time. So John, what are some of your favourite games as a kid? Mine, I would say probably I loved Battleship. I just loved getting my hands on those little ships as a kid and playing with those. And Monopoly was always a good one, even though we kind of made up our own rules as we went. What about you?
[John] Well, there was a game called Squatter that we used to pat play, and it had thousands and thousands of little sheep and there would be sheep all over the carpet and you would stand on them with your bare feet and it would kill... There's something to be said for the digital era where you don't have all those parts. But for me the most important thing was not the games I played, although that was sort of important, but it was who I was playing with. For me, it's an intensely social experience. I grew up in a family of six kids. We had eight people there every night back in the day. I just love playing board games with my family or with my friends. I've gotta say games is one of the very few areas that haven't translated into the digital era for me. I just love sitting around with my brothers and sisters or with my friends, maybe with a few wines and playing some game. It's a really social experience and it doesn't really translate so well to the digital era where you'd all be sitting off typing into your phone or whatever.
[Val] Yeah, true. I have to give you that, like when you play Scrabble and there are plenty of digital versions of Scrabble, it's just not quite the same as having friends around and, you know.
[John] But that said, a lot of the games there are digital versions of, and during the pandemic they came in very handy 'cause you couldn't have people over to play games. And so there was a lot of sort of multiplayer game playing going on via phones, via computers and via the internet.
[Val] Yeah. That's true. And there are some fantastic ones like word puzzles where you are sharing that gaming experience with a whole group of people, and each of them can participate with their phone. They don't have to play all the time. They can just spend a couple of minutes here or there to progress the game. So there are some really clever ways that the digital world through its networking or connecting all these people together you could play people from overseas. You could play brother or sister who lives in the UK for example. And even though you don't talk to them that much, you're still kind of having an ongoing game with them. So I do like that about the digital world of gaming.
[John] Gaming is inherently social but I gotta say for me, there's nothing as good as a game night with a physical board and physical humans drinking physical wine.
[Val] Yeah, it's true. There are definitely pros and cons and that's why I should definitely, you know, caution listeners out there too. Not only about, you know, being careful about where they get their games. These apps can be downloaded, they should usually go through the official stores like the Apple App store or the Google Play store from your device. But it's good to do some web searching and see some reviews about games and picking the best ones and the safest ones before downloading them. And also there's a code of conduct about the way people should behave when they're playing games. And a lot of games that do bring people together, have reporting tools where you can report somebody if they're not following that code of conduct. So keep that in mind. And also, some games are free, especially like you can get some fantastic Sudoku puzzles that you can do on your iPhone for free. They might serve ads, so just bear in mind that that's usually the price you pay, and others might cost a bit of money, so keep that in mind. Maybe try the free one, but just make sure that you're downloading it from an app store like the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.
[John] Or you could play a real game.
[Val] Or you could play a board game, get the dice out, get the Yahtzee going or ... And have a glass of wine. So that does sound pretty good to me too.
[John] No, this whole gaming thing is lost on me.
[Val] So John, let's talk about something that might actually change the way books are written and art is even created, and that's artificial intelligence. There is AI software and this is called Chat GPT, that can write anything you ask it pretty much. It could be a letter, it could be a website, it could be a poem, a haiku, a Limerick, song, an essay, a book. And there's other AI software too, like Google's Imagen and some other types that can generate images from the descriptions you type in a style that you ask for. So I might say, "Can you create a drawing of a dog in the style of Vermeer?" So those, you know, it's just amazing what this can do. What do you think of all this?
[John] So I think AI is a bit of a two-edged sword. There is a lot of risk attached to AI at a sort of a broad social level. But if you're careful with the way you use it, you can use it to say right a best man's speech. Now, the thing you've gotta keep in mind with AI is that it'll make stuff up, it gets a bit creative at times. So the best way to use AI as far as I'm concerned, is as a starting point. So you use it to give you a fresh way of thinking, but you don't use it holus-bolus, right?
[Val] So yeah talk me through how this might work. Best man speeches, you go into say Chat GPT, which is an online service. And then you just ask it, you say, I wanna write a best man speech, gimme some tips.
[John] And you can tell it how long you want the speech to be. I want a five minute speech or whatever. But for starters, it doesn't know the person you're talking about. All it's done is it's been trained on a whole bunch of best man speeches and a whole bunch of writing styles over the ages. So it has a fair idea of what best man speech should look like and it will sort of, in a fresh way, recombine everything it's previously read into a new speech that has never existed before. But that doesn't mean you can just then turn around and read out that speech because it won't have the sort of the personal anecdotes you need. It can give you a nice framework, it can give you some jokes, or the sort of the kernel of some jokes and gives you ideas, but ultimately you still need to take charge of it yourself and just use the AI as a starting point for your creativity rather than rely entirely on the creativity of the AI.
[Val] Okay. So I still need to do some work. It might give me the how to do it and some examples, but I would still need to sort of insert the things I knew about, you know, my special friend who's getting married, for example.
[John] If you're stuck, it can help you get unstuck.
[Val] Right. And how about say something like, could I say write a poem for my wife who likes roses on Valentine's Day? Could I ask it to do that? And would it just write something?
[John] It would write something that is probably never been written before. Whether your wife values, that is another question. Whether she wants something from a machine versus something from you.
[Val] Okay. Well it really is truly amazing John, and it's been fantastic talking to you about a lot of this technology. We've covered so much in our chat, and just seeing how much things have changed. Technology is really changing the way we do things, maybe for the better, for the most part. But there's still some of those things that I think I liked done the old way.
[John] Yes. Just keep playing board games.
[Val] Yeah. What do you think, I mean, is it an improvement or, you know, is it maybe a little too much?
[John] I think it's 95% an improvement.
[Val] Look, that's positive. And I think on that positive note, we'll sign off for this podcast. Thank you so much for joining me John. It's been great to chat with you. Really appreciate it.
[John] Yeah, nice chatting Val.
[Val] Okay. And thank you too to all of our listeners for joining me for this episode of the Be Connected podcast and really appreciate your time. So if you like what you've heard, why not consider subscribing to receive all of the latest episodes and even leave a review to help others find us if you're listening on a podcast platform. And remember too, we've got some great stuff in our show notes, lots of information on the things that we've covered here today, including links and all kinds of other useful materials. And for more about today's subject, just hop over to discover other great topics on www.beconnected.esafety.gov.au. That's www.beconnected.esafety.gov.au. I'm Val Quinn and I look forward to your company next time.
Be Connected is an Australian government initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation Australia. Be Connected builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.
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Guest: John Davidson
Can technology make your favourite past times more enjoyable? From looking at photos, watching videos, listening to radio, reading books, and playing games, join our host Val Quinn and award-winning technology columnist and reviewer from the Australian Financial Review, John Davidson, as we explore new ways of doing old things.
Any views expressed in this episode are strictly personal views only and do not in any way reflect the opinion of the Australian government, the eSafety Commissioner or the Be Connected program.
Be Connected is an Australian Government Initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation Australia. Be Connected builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources, and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.
Be Connected acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work, and pays respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.